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Colossians 1:1 Not junk mail

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, (Colossians 1:1 NIV)

I want to spend time reading and thinking about this letter. I am going to take it slowly, to linger over phrases and try and draw meaning and application. It is so easy just to read the bible on a surface level. I am so familiar that I skim and skip and read in my head and not my spirit. I was given this verse at my baptism:

Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. (Colossians 3:1-3 NIV)

I was the first person in my family to be born again and the verse I was given as my text has undergirded my life thus far. So I will start with verse one.

At the beginning of this letter Paul introduces himself. He starts off with his name, then his role, his credentials and introduces us to his companion and fellow worker.

Paul has a relationship with the church in Colossi and this letter flows from his desire to lead and instruct the Christians there. He was making a personal investment in writing and at the end of the book he gives instructions that this letter be circulated and read widely.

Paul is not a lone ranger. He has a partner in Timothy who works alongside him and who is also included in the opening greeting because Timothy is endorsing the message that Paul is writing. This epistle is full of love and loaded with truth. Paul says he is an apostle through the will of God. We can have confidence that our ministry, gifts and mission are ordained. God calls us and equips us to do specific work for him. We each have a sphere of influence where we can contribute in a positive way to build the kingdom of God. I have many roles: wife, mother, daughter, sister, aunt, business partner, teacher, volunteer, governor, leader, encourager, mentor, friend.

Reflection

Where is my sphere of influence?
What opportunities have I had to influence people this last week?
What roles and responsibilities am I taking now?
Who am I standing alongside and who is supporting me in a Timothy role?

Prayer

Lord I thank you that you have chosen me and that you have appointed me to do good works. Like Paul I have a commission and today I offer my body, mind, spirit and emotions to your service. Enable me to serve you well today. Help me to be diligent, hard working, discerning and wise. I need your blessing and favour and I ask you to prosper me. I look to you for help and ask you to direct my ways. Thank you for the encouragement and companionship of others who are my brothers and sisters in faith. May we know joy in each other’s company, may we strengthen and encourage each other and enable us to be effective as we serve together. Amen

More

Please read through Colossians chapter 1 to see this chapter in full context and to fill your mind with the Word of God.

Colossians 3: 17 Let peace rule

And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. (Colossians 3:14-17NIV)
Paul tells us to rid ourselves of sin, then to clothe ourselves with virtues such as compassion and kindness. He then says that love is the overcoat binding every action and attitude together. Virtues generated by love flow gracefully. They are genuine and transparent. There is no gritting of teeth or compulsion fuelled by guilt or religious fervour or desire to look good. Authenticity is precious and possible through the grace of God working through us and in us.
Let peace rule. To rule means to have dominion. A ruler makes decisions and settles things. Peace is the opposite of anxiety or fear. We are called to peace, not to striving, and to make every effort to live at peace. I need to have internal harmony which will then guide my dealings with others. Internal stress will erupt externally and express itself through irritability, self-preoccupation and frayed tempers with others.
The next instruction will open the door to peace. Be thankful. Gratitude enables perspective. When I give thanks I see all the good I enjoy and the small challenges become a source of prayer. Peace comes as I look to heaven in thanks. Letting the word of Christ dwell through all sorts of spiritual practices. Gathering with others to pray strengthens and builds on my personal prayer. I am encouraged to extend my perspective and pray about situations and people outside of my daily concerns. Praying with others often starts with a shared bible passage that shapes and directs the direction of prayer centering my heart and enabled me to receive and give again.
Reflection:
What is the “whatever” of this day that needs to be offered in prayer so that you can live in peace and express gratitude to God?
Prayer:
Lord Jesus you renew my mind. Transform me now. Energise me, and clothe me with love and kindness that reaches out to others. Mobilise and motivate me to pray and through prayer to see the peace of Christ take dominion in my heart and the challenging situations I face. Amen

Colossians 3: 11. Equality in Christ

Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all. (Colossians 3:11 NIV)

Paul has just talked about behaviours to rid themselves of. Now he goes on to talk about equality. This sentence is so powerful even these days where we judge and compare. The term ethnic cleansing is abhorrent. How can the word cleanse be associated with murder or forced exile?I have just listened to a report that in the 1970s Leicester council told Ugandan Asians not to come to Leicester. This back fired as many wanted to know why not and discovere a great place to build community. Leicester is one of the leading Asian communities in the UK and they are now red faced about this past discrimination.

So if we are not to be classified according to race or religion how are we to overcome this? Christ is in all. Jesus initiates. He makes us one by the gift of salvation. There are people who join groups where they have a common interest; a political party, owners of VW camper vans, members of campaigning groups. Perhaps the closest would be people who are taking the same life giving drug coming together. We don’t seem to unite when some external force brings us together but we like to opt in to alliances. Here we see that Christ chose us and that unites us. He is all. He identifies with Jews, Gentiles, free and slave. He came amongst us in disguise. The creator of the universe held in flesh born as an infant. He is all and in all. Therefore it is grace that unites us, and our love for Jesus and our shared experience of his saving power.

Next we have the therefore….as a result, with this in mind, now do…

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. (Colossians 3:12-14 NIV)

Again Paul drills down behaviours that should be experienced. Compassion. This is where the heart is moved, and engages with a desire to act on behalf of the other. The means of entering into another’s pain. The coming alongside and taking time to express care in practical ways. The opposite of compassion is disinterest and disdain; turning away and having a closed mind. With compassion we put ourselves in the other’s shoes. We encompass their experience; we do not judge or blame them for the consequences they are in, but seek resolution and alleviation of their need.

Kindness is a way of acting towards another where we are thinking of their response, not just what is expedient for us. To speak with kindness, is to look at someone, to smile, to watch their response. It is an active engagement with the other. We modulate the tone of our voice. We change our posture so that we are on a level with them. We do not bully or shout or intimidate. These actions are only possibly through humility. That is the emptying of self. Putting others first. Not hiding behind rules, position or knowledge. Not grudging or with a superior attitude. Simple and straight forward. Even when we are gentle and patient then the other will not always trust us or be able to respond immediately. We need to go at their pace and be patient. Willing to take time and not force issues. Giving them time to adjust and change.

Bear with and forgive any grievance. There will be upsets. No one is sin free. Most sin is committed against others so when upsets come I need to apply compassion, kindness, humility and gentleness all the more. Forgive the grievance. Do not hold it against the person. Let it go. Forget it. Don’t act as if they will repeat that action again. Forgive as Christ forgives me. He forgives and restores. He does not keep a list of my sins. He redeems me and changes me over time. Have the expectation that Christ will shape and form the lives of others and offer them a fresh start.

Reflection:
What grievance is clinging like a cobweb in a forgotten corner of my heart?
Be first to open the hand of friendship and the smile of acceptance

Prayer:
Lord, I thank you for these words of wisdom about godly living. I want to live this way. I want to know oneness with others from different social, racial and religious backgrounds. I want to be compassionate and kind and be open and humble. I need your help. Transform me. Give me the ability to forgive others as you have forgiven me. Bless me to be a blessing. Lead me this day as I read, and meditate and pray and set aside time to be still. Let my mind be set on you.

Colossians 3:7-10 Come clean

You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. (Colossians 3:7-10 NIV)

I used to walk….being a Christian means we are given the power and resolve to change our lifestyle and stop certain actions. Why? Because it is God’s will that certain behaviours stop, and this makes way for new attitudes and actions. How is this possible? Though the power of the resurrected Christ living in us and renewing our minds and giving us the desire to live a holy life, pleasing to God.

Rid yourself:  This is something for me to do; to rid, banish, stop, separate from, put behind me, tear away, to despise these behaviours and throw them off with determination and passion. I am to take responsibility and I will need to get help to do this.

Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. James 5:16

This is the sort of mind set and determination that launches action; joining a 12 step programme; seeking counsel; becoming accountable to another person for my behaviour.

Anger can be a low level burning that ignites when people and situations come in contact. I meet people who have vats of stored up passive anger hidden under the surface. I sense that they are unpredictable and unreliable. I know that there are subjects that will cause them to explode in pent up rage where their volcano of unresolved anger pours out like molten lava indiscriminately on those around them.

Malice and slander are unkind words deliberately used to wound. To slander is to deceive and plant false information to discredit another. All these devious ways are deployed to elevate self and destroy others. They come from a desire to manipulate and be in control.

We curse or use expletives or filthy language to express anger and hatred and to inflict pain and malign others. Filthy language is unnecessary and pollutes the atmosphere. It makes public the thoughts and preoccupations of the mind. It demonstrates a lack of respect for others. It shows arrogance and a lack of self control. It is ugly and demeaning for the speaker as well as the listener.

Do not lie to each other. Why should I need to lie? I am I hiding something? Am I pretending to be someone I am not?  Most lies are instinctive. They pop out before we have time to think as a form of denial and self protection.

Earlier this year an MP and his wife faced prosecution for lying about who was driving when their car was caught on camera for speeding. Why did they lie? Perhaps it was to avoid embarrassment. Perhaps it was to get a short term solution and to avoid judgement. Perhaps that lie was fuelled by pride then exposed through revenge. I think that there would have been a better outcome in this scenario if the truth was told at the beginning.

One lie usually multiplies like a virus and infects others. The new self, renewed in the image of its creator, can face the short term pain of admission of guilt through honesty and transparency. We call this ‘coming clean’ where the lie is exposed and it is quarantined and can no longer implicates and injure others. I can come clean. I can be reformed.

In Christ I can take off my old self. I can put on a new self. I can live a God pleasing life, empowered by the Holy Spirit. I am yoked with Jesus pulling in the same direction in partnership. If I am tempted and sin then I feel an instant loss of union with Christ and the grievance I have caused. I also experience the love that draws and welcomes me to repent and start again. I am renewed as the Holy Spirit brings me back to Jesus. There is no accusation, just the free gift of salvation and the mercy of Christ through the cross.

Reflection:

  • What “old self” attitudes and actions must I rid myself of today?
  • Determine to confess to someone who will pray for you so you can be healed

Prayer:

Thank you Lord for the hope that I have in Christ. I am so grateful that your Holy Spirit acts like a radar to expose my sin and lead me to repentance. Thank you that confessing to others releases forgiveness, healing and the power to overcome. Thank you for renewing me to become more like my Creator as I continue my faith journey. Amen

More:

Please read through Colossians chapter 3 to see this chapter in full context and to fill your mind with the Word of God.

Colossians 3:5, 6 Secrets?

Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming. (Colossians 3:5, 6 NIV)

Put to death. Kill off. Cease. Stop. End. Do not let these things have power over you.  This verse tells me that I am to do it, which suggests that this is possible. This is a command to completely eradicate these behaviours, not just stun them, or stop them temporarily. To put something to death is to render it unable to rise up and control us again. This marks the difference between remorse and repentance. When we are remorseful we express contrition and we are often embarrassed to be found out, but remorse does not necessarily come with a determination to never repeat that action ever again.

Put to death whatever belongs to my earthly nature.  My earthly nature is the opposite of a heavenly nature. I was born with a predisposition to selfishness and from a young age I am sure that my behaviour veered towards self-interest and actions that I knew to be wrong. Paul gets specific so we are sure of what he is referring to. The first example of our earthly nature is sexual immorality. We cannot look to our nation’s laws to define sexual purity as the law continues to change. The bible gives us teaching about what sexual purity looks like. Sex was created by God and is a blessing. It is to be enjoyed within marriage where husband and wife forsake all others to cleave to each other in a faithful union. Pre-marital sex and adultery are outside of God’s plan for us and are sinful. Jesus taught that sexual immorality also included lustful thoughts. This sets the bar very high and demonstrates that we have all fallen short of God’s standards.  Jesus explains that immorality starts in the mind and heart and then becomes an action later.

Another example is impurity. The test of whether something is impure is whether we would act in the same way in public or with another person present. There are many secret activities that hide under the cloak of anonymity.  Anything we cover up or lie about will be impure. Lust, evil desires and greed are appetites that feed self and have little regard for another. Such desires are never satisfied and always wanting more. Our God is a jealous God and wants our energies and attention to be fully His. Anything that we desire more that His presence and his word is idolatry.

What is God’s response when we chose to follow our earthly nature? Paul says the wrath of God is coming. This is a warning and a wake up. Wrath is anger which takes action. God is going to express his displeasure. Jesus was full of wrath at the money lenders and crooks in the temple as they had perverted the temple from a house of prayer to a corrupt place. Jesus upturned tables but did not harm people. He spoke out and confronted. He made known truth. He exposed hypocrisy and greed and made a spectacle of them. He set an example that speaks to us even now. God’s judgement is not always instant but it will come. There is a day of reckoning. There is a consequence for those of us who do not heed or obey or change.

Reflection:

  • Do I have any guilty secrets?
  • What sins need to stop and get killed off?

Prayer:

Lord please help me to recognise these sins of my earthly nature, and to be determined to put them to death. Just as I would put out a fire before it burns up a property then I want to end any sin before it takes hold of me, and destroys me and others around me. Deliver me from evil and lead me not into temptation. Lead me in paths of righteousness and peace this day. May I glorify my Saviour in all I think and say and do.  Amen

More:

Please read through Colossians chapter 3 to see this chapter in full context and to fill your mind with the Word of God.

 

Colossians 3:1, 2 Live like a millionaire

Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. (Colossians 3:1, 2 NIV)

Why is this just so easy to read these words and yet so difficult to have an adequate response? This is dynamite and yet I can barely grasp it. I feel like my emotional response should be the sort of response I would get if I read in a letter: “Since you have just inherited three million pounds, think about how you might invest it. Imagine what you could do with this wealth.” I think I would certainly start thinking and planning. I would probably find it difficult to sleep as I tried to grasp the opportunity and responsibility of receiving such bounty. I couldn’t ignore it and I would find it hard to keep calm. The day I inherited such a fortune would change the whole trajectory that month and year and quite possibly my future life.

Since then. Being raised with Christ is stated as a fact which will have consequences. I now enter into the realm of opportunities that are heavenly and not of this world. My priorities do not need to be chained to the here and now because I have the assurance of eternity with Christ. So I could say “Since I am now a millionaire, think, act and live like a millionaire”

You have been raised. To raise something is to separate it, to elevate and lift it high. Jesus talked about us being in the world but not of the world. We are made holy and called to a separate life with Christ. Most multimillionaires can procure privileges that are available solely to the rich. They can pay to be exclusive. They don’t need to stand in a queue. They can acquire VIP status. Their wealth gives them power, authority and opportunity.

Set your hearts on things above. The heart is the wellspring of life. This verse tells me that I can control my heart. I can liberate it of stifle it. I love with my heart. My heart is my true self. To set my heart is like a pilot setting a flight path; it takes determination and dedication. I must endeavour not to veer off course but to keep steady with my vision fixed and my destination sure. I must not be fickle or distracted. I can fill every waking hour with distractions that fill all available space. I can read and watch and surf and close off the silent ocean that makes room for imagining.

Set your mind on things above. My mind is like an engine. It is where I think and reason and am logical. I can train my mind through discipline and study. My mind faces facts. My mind has to work things out and deal with knowledge. I can control my mind. My heart is inspirational and full of longing. My heart can enable me to project over my external circumstances, my heart has faith. I can align my heart and mind together to be set on heavenly things.

Money and possessions will pass away but treasure in heaven will not fade. If my heart is heaven centred then I will invest in heavens plans. I will steward my resources for things above, not earthly temporary things. My money is a tool for the kingdom.

Reflection:

  • Think like a millionaire
  • Dive into a pool of silence for five minutes
  • Check the trajectory of my heart and mind

Prayer:

Thank you Lord that I have been raised with Christ. I will stop right now and examine my heart and mind. I will listen through silence. Enable me to harness my energy, attention, skills and wealth for your heavenly purposes. Amen

More:

Please read through Colossians chapter 3 to see this chapter in full context and to fill your mind with the Word of God.

Colossians 2: 21-23 Rules

Since you died with Christ to the elemental spiritual forces of this world, why, as though you still belonged to the world, do you submit to its rules: “Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch! These rules, which have to do with things that are all destined to perish with use, are based on merely human commands and teachings. Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence. (Colossians 2:23 NIV)

This section of the letter addresses some practices that have infiltrated into the Colossians’ religious practice. They were persuaded to abstain from certain behaviours in an attempt to curb the flesh. Self denial is something humans do to improve. We diet after excess at Christmas or a holiday. We make bold promises to ourselves to pray and fast and do something drastic to jump start spirituality. We are tempted towards self-denial as we are convinced that our efforts will result in the favour of God and we think that religious piety will silence temptation.

Jesus faced enormous temptation as he fasted. How much more will we?

The words ‘do not.’ are repeated. Do not handle, touch or taste. This is all to do with the senses.  As someone who has spent four years in a religious cult then I know that I lived under a harsh regime that included fasting, very early morning prayer regimes, and cold showers. They were meant to beat the flesh into submission. This verse exposes it all. It all sounds impressive, and certainly there is a pride that a particularly disciplined devotee can acquire. I remember punishing myself and trying to achieve some sort of ideal state. It was all empty. In fact these self-imposed disciplines were a distraction that kept me busy and in no fit state to question the outcome of such behaviours.

Paul says that this sort of practice cannot restrain the sensual desires. This is because temptation does not originate in the body but in the mind. We are influenced by external things for good or for ill. We can be corrupted and contaminated by being in environments where the desire to sin is stirred up.  I know that the way to overcome temptation is to avoid it. I need to keep myself away from bad influences, and keep everything in balance.

Reflection:

  • Pray the Lord’s Prayer
  • Discern what I see, hear, say and do

Prayer:

I rejoice that I no longer live under the false spiritual mantle of external works or rules and regulations. I give myself freely to seek your presence through Christ not by my human effort. I give you thanks for the gift of free will. Help me to avoid temptation and deliver me from evil. Amen

More:

Please read through Colossians chapter 2 to see this chapter in full context and to fill your mind with the Word of God.

Colossians 2: 16-17 Nonconformists

Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ.

It is so easy to look at the actions of others and make assumptions. We all live under social norms and there are strong unseen pressures to conform to the practices of others around us. Why are there so many Christian denominations? Usually there is a story behind each group with its unique code of practice and tradition that started with an individual called and convicted to worship in a particular manner who gathered others. We like sameness. Look around church on a Sunday and you will find most people sit in the same seats or near the same people week in week out. It’s so easy to do things without thinking just out of habit. Paul is commending us to not be conformed to the pressure to keep up appearances through following the expectations of others.

The Sabbath, or Sunday had a very different feel in my youth. I remember it being a day to visit grandparents or walk in the park. No shops were open as virtually everyone had a day off, so the activities open to you were somewhat limited. Today it is a day to shop and eat out and enjoy virtually everything you can do on Saturday and as a result many people work. I remember the “Keep Sunday Special” campaign and this pressure group has worked to secure some restrictions for Sunday trading. The generation before me had very strict rules about Sunday, and for many it was all about church attendance and what you were not allowed to do.

Jesus seemed to offend people all the time by his breaking with religious protocol. He explained that the Sabbath was for man-a time for refreshment and restoration, not man to be a slave to the codes and minute rules associated with Sabbath keeping of his day. Paul says that these festivals and celebrations are a shadow of the real thing that has come and is found in Christ. Jesus loved life. He loved eating. He loved gathering people. He fasted but he also went to weddings and house parties. He must have enjoyed himself because he too was judged by his behaviour and criticised for his eating and drinking and for associating with the wrong type of people.

Living my life to please others is never going to be a happy life. Why? People are fickle. Our expectations are unrealistic and we rarely give each other room to fail. Living my life to please Jesus has the added benefit of enabling me to overcome negative peer pressure that may be pushing me against my conscience. It gives me courage to be my best self, my authentic, real self.  A natural overflow of pleasing God does usually result in bringing joy to others, which is good because we are not always aware of this benefit.

Reflection

  • Break out of sameness and try something new
  • Embrace fully the feasting, fasting, socialising or solitude of this day

Prayer

Lord I confess that I can so easily judge people by what they do or wear or say or don’t do. Forgive me and enable me to live life accepting difference in others. I thank you for the diversity we enjoy in this land and for the rich cultural heritage of different ethnic groups.  I want to please you and have confidence to follow your leading even if that means I face the disapproval of others. Enable me to enter into the simple pleasures of this day without fear of man and with joy in my heart. Amen

More

Please read through Colossians chapter 2 to see this chapter in full context and to fill your mind with the Word of God.